National Security Brief: February 7, 2012

— Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus today to discuss the worsening crisis surrounding Syria’s violent crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators. Syrians lined the streets to greet Lavrov waving Russian flags after Russia vetoed a U.N. measure to censure Assad.

— A BBC reporter in Syria says the Syrian army resumed mortar attacks and heavy machine-gun fire in the besieged city of Homs. Hundreds have died since the shelling of the city began on Friday.

— Sanctions and instability due to an 11-month uprising against the Syrian government and subsequent violent crackdown have led to rampant inflation, layoffs, and a crumbling economy in Syria, affecting both the prospects for the Assad regime to survive and the country’s citizens.

— Saudi Arabia has started to supply small quantities of extra crude oil to several European countries that have begun to reduce their purchases of Iranian crude because of an impending E.U. ban on Iranian oil.

— Iranian rice buyers defaulted on payments for 200,000 tons of rice from India, a sign that Western sanctions are putting mounting pressure on the Iranian financial system.

— Iran is believed to be expanding uranium enrichment activity deep inside a mountain at the Fordow underground nuclear facility, a move that would stoke tensions with Western powers who suspect Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapon capability.

— Gen. James N. Mattis, head of the military’s Central Command, will travel to Pakistan this month in the first step toward repairing the U.S.-Pakistan strategic relationship that has been effectively frozen for more than two months.

— The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) voiced disappointment in a letter that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed a delayed and over-budget project to build up F-35 fighters from probation without giving assurances about what specific progress has been made.